2011 Playoffs

Durant: Nothing Is Guaranteed

MIAMI — It’s easy to think that this is just the beginning for the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are each just 23 years old. James Harden and Serge Ibaka are just 22. So as the NBA media descended upon Oklahoma City earlier this week, we figured it would become a yearly pilgrimage for The Finals. If we missed a good restaurant or didn’t get a chance to see Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum this year, there would be another opportunity next year or the year after.

And seriously, what team in the Western Conference has a chance to unseat this team in the next few years? If the Thunder don’t win this series, they at least took one more step on the ladder this year, just like so many great teams before them.

Well, Durant doesn’t want to hear it.

“That’s the one thing I hate is when people say that,” Durant said. “People are going to say we’ll be here next year or the year after that. But nothing is guaranteed. With the way this league is going, so many great teams, you never know.”

In 1995, the Orlando Magic reached The Finals with a 23-year-old point guard named Penny Hardaway and a 23-year-old center named Shaquille O’Neal. Though they got swept by the defending champion Houston Rockets, the future was bright. Penny was as unique at his position as Durant is at his, and Shaq was a behemoth who would eventually win four championships.

But that was it for those Magic. Michael Jordan and the Bulls were back to full strength the next season, Shaq left after just one more year in Orlando, and the Magic didn’t get back to The Finals for 14 years. (more…)

Other Positives Revealed In Lakerland

LOS ANGELES – The Game 1 dissection seemed easy enough: Andrew Bynum, Andrew Bynum and more Andrew Bynum, plus some Kobe Bryant (31 points, on 11-of-24 shooting) and meaningful contributions from L.A. role players.

Except that Sunday at Staples Center offered many more relevant points about what the 103-88 victory meant for the Lakers, facts that may have gotten lost in Bynum’s star turn. The Nuggets and Lakers certainly will make note of them as they practice Monday in preparation of Game 2 on Tuesday night (10:30 ET, TNT).

For all the talk about Denver needing to push the ball like it does against the rest of the league — especially in this case because speed can hurt the Lakers — the Nuggets haven’t shown the ability to do anything other than talk about it. All season.


A Little Outside-The-Ring Thinking

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — It’s one thing to be a Maverick. That means you’re a champion.

But it’s quite another thing to be a maverick and that’s the area where Mark Cuban is usually most comfortable.

This time though, Cuban could be going too far with his notion to abandon the tradition of championship rings in Dallas.

“Rings are done,” Cuban told NBA TV. “It’s time to take it to the next level.”

Before he goes off on a hare-brained spending spree, Cuban might want to consult with his players and staff who have worked so hard for so many years for the right to slip that gaudy bauble onto their finger.

“We got to talk to him about that,” said Dirk Nowitzki, the Finals MVP. “I don’t think the last word has been spoken yet. You know he always wants to do something different, wants to do something bigger, but I mean, the ring is just so classic.

“I think I would vote for a ring. I mean, I’m a man. I don’t know how I’d feel about a bracelet. I’ve gotta go with a ring.”


Fixing The Hole In LeBron

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — The next time — and surely there will be a next time — LeBron James gets to the NBA Finals, would he be better served getting a gentle pat on the back or the Heimlich Maneuver?

To choke or not to choke: that is the question.

Actually, the question that’s been percolating throughout the basketball world ever since King James repeatedly sank in the fourth quarter moat against the Mavericks is: Did he choke?

In an illuminating piece by Eric Adelson at Yahoo.com, sports psychologist Hap Davis has a biological explanation of what happened to James and a tip on what he can do about it:

In fact, whenever athletes start thinking about the pride or pain of winning or losing, they can become overwhelmed with emotion and unable to perform the basic duties of playing in the present.

“The moment someone thinks about the reward,” Davis says, “they are in a whole different space.”

So you see the brilliance of what Dirk Nowitzki did in Game 6. He held his emotions back until the second the game ended and the title was won. Then he hustled to the locker room to cry. He was completely unemotional and then he was completely emotional. It was the opposite of what so-called “chokers” do.

So what’s the best way to overcome this? How can LeBron James turn back into the fourth-quarter beast he used to be? Move on and forget the 2011 NBA Finals ever happened?

Nope. Davis says the best way to erase the past is to dwell on it. Watch the failure again and again and again on tape until it evokes zero emotional response. Watch the disaster until you’re so numb to it that it feels like someone else is doing the failing.

“I’ve worked with too many athletes who say, ‘Screw it, it’s a bad game,’ ” Davis says. “Some people will get away with ‘Forget about it.’ But most athletes will find that’s a bad idea. They haven’t got past the emotional experience.”


What’s Next For The Heat?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — With The Finals in the books (and in case you missed anything, check out our nifty recap above), it’s never too soon to start analyzing the participants. We’re not ones to wait, so here’s our quick post-Finals take on the state of the Heat and Mavs and what’s next for each of them. Up first are the Eastern Conference champs and Finals runner-up.


A quick look back: The most anticipated combination since beer and pizza, the debut of the Dwyane Wade-LeBron James-Chris Bosh Era left a bad taste in the mouth when the Heat lost at Boston on opening night and delivered the message that this was going to be a process.

After Udonis Haslem was lost to a torn ligament in his foot on Nov. 20, things hit rock bottom on Nov. 27. A 106-95 loss at Dallas dropped the Heat to 9-8 and was marked by the episode of James bumping into coach Erik Spoelstra. The loss precipitated a postgame, players-only meeting that cleared the air and set things straight.

The meeting led to sizzling stretch of 21-1 from Nov. 29 through Jan. 9 where the only loss was — in perhaps another hint at the future — at home to Dallas.

A four-game losing streak in January and a five-game losing streak in early March set the alarm bells ringing again. But the Heat closed the regular season on a run of 14-3 to complete a 58-24 record that was good enough for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference and they cruised through the playoffs with a swagger that never stopped until they ran into the Mavs again.


Is King James Really Prince Pippen?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Maybe Scottie Pippen was looking into one of those funhouse mirrors that distorts the image and that’s why he didn’t recognize himself.

Never mind measuring up LeBron James’ greatness to Michael Jordan. Former Bulls teammate Steve Kerr says the more accurate comparison is – you’re gonna love this – to Pippen himself.

“The irony to me is that LeBron is not Michael. LeBron is actually Scottie,” Kerr said Monday on “The Waddle & Silvy Show” on ESPN1000 in Chicago. “He’s so similar to Scottie in that defensively he was just a monster, could guard anybody, really more of a point forward than scoring guard. Scottie always loved to distribute the ball. That’s really where LeBron’s preference is.

Phil Jackson used to call Scottie a ‘sometimes shooter.’ Sometimes they would go in, sometimes they wouldn’t. That’s how it is with LeBron. He’s a great talent and a great player but you can see his flaws as a basketball player. He doesn’t have an offensive game that he can rely on: no low-post game, no mid-range jump shot so when the game really gets tough he has a hard time finding easy baskets and getting himself going. That’s what Michael did in his sleep so that’s why the comparison is wrong.”

So in the aftermath of Miami’s loss in the Finals, the disappearing act in the fourth quarters and Kerr’s observation, what are the chances that a certain someone looks into a mirror he finds LeBron staring back?

What do you think? Is he King James, Prince Pippen or the Duke of Earl?

Stevenson, Mavs Take It Personal

MIAMI — As far as heroes go for the Dallas Mavericks these days, DeShawn Stevenson has to rank pretty high on the list.

How many guys lose their starting job (to J.J. Barea) in The Finals and then come back even better? Stevenson did exactly that, going from the starting shooting guard spot to super sub as the Mavericks won three straight games to finish off the Miami Heat in six games.

Stevenson turned into a 3-point assassin off the bench in those final three games, nailing nine of his 14 attempts from deep, including making 3-for-5 Sunday night to finish off the Heat.

Waxing the Heat was extra sweet for Stevenson, whose personal beef with LeBron James predates their time with their respective teams, as Tim McMahon ESPNDallas.com made clear:

“It makes me feel good, man, to beat him, to beat that Miami team,” Stevenson told ESPNDallas.com in an AmericanAirlines Arena hallway after the Mavs clinched the title with Sunday’s Game 6 win. “The way they act, the way they treated Dirk [Nowitzki], all the things that they said were very classless. To win on the court the way we did it, it was wonderful.”

Make no mistake about it, this series was an extension of The 2006 Finals series between these same two teams. The fact that only four players, two from each side, remained from that series means nothing. The universal disdain between both sides was hard to miss — from the mocking of Nowitzki by James and Dwyane Wade to the near ruckus that broke out early in Game 6 when Stevenson and Udonis Haslem bumped into each other on their way to their respective benches during a stop in play.

“A series like this gets personal,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “It gets personal because we have guys that say things, and they do it to get themselves going. Then they have the incident with the camera and the coughing and all that stuff. You get to Game 5, Game 6 and it becomes personal. Our guys took it personally.”

Time To Stop Playing The Victim, Miami

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — I’m still waiting for one member of the Heat organization to say: “We brought most of this onto ourselves.”

Not the loss, but the derision.

Not the Mavs’ happy celebration on their home court, but the global victory party that seemed to break out in every place but South Florida.

They still don’t get it.

Not coach Erik Spoelstra, who sat at the microphone in the interview room and talked about how all season long his team had to overcome “the noise.”

Who was it that threw the lavish and presumptuous bash on the same AmericanAirlines Arena floor last summer? Who was it that made entitlement a part of their uniform and locker room ethos?

LeBron James’ comment about the rest of the world going back to its pedestrian problems and lifestyle now earn him a place in privileged history next to Marie Antoinette .

But the biggest question is: How did Dwyane Wade let himself get roped into this Gordian Knot of a dilemma?


Game 6 Mini-Movie

MIAMI — It’s always good to take a second look at history, so without further ado the Game 6 Mini-Movie (courtesy of Cousin Gerald P. Smith and his crew):

Mavs Way Never Goes Out Of Style

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — That’s the thing about shortcuts.

Sometimes they can get you to the destination faster. Other times they can drop you off the freeway ramp into the wrong kind of neighborhood.

The Mavericks are celebrating the first NBA championship in franchise history because they stuck with perseverance over panic, prudence over haste.

No one in the free agent class of 2010 – LeBron James included – had more reason to fly the coop than Dirk Nowitzki. Not after all the years, all the frustration, all the derision that had been heaped upon him.

James and Chris Bosh bolted to beaches of Miami. Carlos Boozer headed off to the Windy City. Amar’e Stoudemire fled to the bright lights of New York.

Yet Nowitzki never really considered setting one foot outside of Dallas.

Longevity and loyalty, it turns out, are a difficult combination to beat.

So, too, it turns out, is the process of building a champion brick by brick.